Ben Tre Vietnamese Homestyle Cuisine
South San Francisco, CA
Website | Yelp
I moved to San Francisco a year ago, and yet I had never tried any pho up here until this week. What a shockingly long time! But I finally made myself go check out local offerings at Ben Tre, not far from my place in South San Francisco.
First of all, this place is small! There's an outdoor dining area, but it wasn't being used and doesn't look very comfortable. Inside, the crowded table spacing makes the place seem even smaller. Three tables for two were set together, and I sat right in the middle of two parties of two. Not the most comfortable dining experience. I've never been a fan of table sharing - that's what bars are for! But I think that Ben Tre tries to make the most of its limited space. The dining area and kitchen are in the same room, separated by a partition wall. Since it's a corner restaurant, the walls of the dining area are windows. Most of the decor in the restaurant is on that partition. It's cute, but the limited space takes a damper on the ambiance.
I think this shot of the bathroom demonstrates Ben Tre's trend of trying to make small, multipurpose spaces look nice.
Even though it's crowded and cluttered, Ben Tre does some good business. Obviously, their food brings people back! The menu is more varied than your average Vietnamese restaurant. The most popular item on the menu is the five-spice chicken, most commonly ordered with garlic noodles. However, you can also order it with pho, as I did. While traditional pho choices are priced at $7.25 for a small and $7.95 for a large, the 5-Spice Chicken Pho is $8.95. Since I'd heard so much about it, I decided, what the hell, I may as well mix it up and give the dish a try. It came out very quickly, and looked very different from my usual pho selections.
|Hot and steamy 5-Spice Chicken Pho!|
The five-spice chicken should have been the star of the meal. Countless reviews have lauded it as delicious, flavorful, and mouthwatering, but I didn't think it was that great. It was a little too salty, and I couldn't pinpoint any of the flavors or spices used, except lemongrass. I think I could taste that, but it might be solely because the description "baked chicken, marinated in lemongrass and rich herb sauce" appeared anytime 5-spice chicken was mentioned. While the crispy areas of the chicken skin were good, the parts that weren't crispy were kind of fatty and slippery. Not good. I do think that the portion is generous, though.
Now, the pho! This is the first time I've rated chicken pho (pho ga) for Pho Across America, and I have to admit that it was hard for me to rate it when I haven't eaten very much. I'm a beef girl, after all. But! Here we go.
The pho itself looked underwhelming. Since there was no meat in the bowl, the noodles looked like they were swimming in all that broth. The amount of onions and cilantro in the bowl was minimal, so I took care to add lots of cilantro and basil from the garnishes. I thought the broth was pretty good at first, but I quickly realized it was kind of bland. Kind of boring. While I can usually detect a warmth from spices in beef broth, this really just tasted like chicken broth. Plain old chicken broth, without the love and care put into simmering secret recipes of meat and spices for hours. It wasn't very fulfilling. Plus, the noodles were kind of thin and had that just-boiled-from-a-package taste.
I ate the chicken and pho separately at first, and then had the idea to tear off some pieces of chicken and add them to the pho. It took away the saltiness from the chicken, and gave the broth more flavor, but I could tell that adding too much chicken would oversalt the broth and make it unpalatable. In the end, I left a third of the chicken uneaten.
So, I don't know. It was a decent meal, but not as good as I had hoped. It seems like a lot of people like Ben Tre, though. The clientele were a total mixed bag, from Asians to Spanish speakers to a black girl eating her pho with a fork. And the biggest surprise, a party of large white people who had made a reservation. Not to mention the line that popped up near the end of my meal, as people waited for tables to clear. This place is highly rated on Yelp, and I can see that it's popular. I guess I should come back and try something else. Probably with a friend, so I won't have to rub elbows and eavesdrop on strangers all by myself. Eavesdropping is more fun with a friend, right?
- Broth flavor- 3/5
- Noodle & meat quality- 3.5/5
- Garnish selection- 1/2
- Portion size- 2/2
- Service- 3/5
- Cleanliness- 4/5
- Atmosphere- 2.5/4
- Speed of arrival- 2/2